From Africa, For Africa
Born poor in Burundi, Professor Léonce Ndikumana exposes the international exploitation of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The economic ransacking of Sub-Saharan Africa by foreign nations and viciously corrupt internal forces began centuries ago and goes on unabated. Global economic structural factors, abetted by complicit domestic policies, ensure a relentless outflow of capital from African nations and make it difficult for them to raise development financing. Multinational corporations exploit and marginalize the continent. And given their origin in remote, powerful, and largely insular international institutions, these abuses are cruelly intractable.
Léonce Ndikumana, chair of UMass Amherst’s Department of Economics, calmly and relentlessly brings all of this to light. As the director of the African Development Policy Program at the Political Economy Research Institute, he works with a surgeon’s dispassion, succumbing neither to indignation nor despair.
The chances of that little village boy from Burundi ending up where I am are almost too slim to compute.
Born the third of nine children in a farming family in a small village in the south of Burundi, Ndikumana learned early on the need for every member, regardless of age, to contribute to the family’s well-being. While attending a nearby Catholic elementary school, he diligently helped farm and watch over the cattle. Lucky enough to be among the local children able to complete elementary school, he went on to pass the daunting national exam to attend high school, which only one in eight to ten students were able to do. He thereafter became among the one in a dozen high school students to go on to college.
After graduating from the University of Burundi, Ndikumana obtained a scholarship from the U.S. Agency for International Development to attend graduate school in the United State. He received his doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis. “The chances,” the mathematician in him muses, “of that little village boy from Burundi ending up where I am are almost too slim to compute.”
Africa’s challenges, Ndikumana explains, are multifold but “come down to individual government structures and how countries are represented at the global level—the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. The power of any government is determined by the size of its economy. African countries have small economies, and their global representation is proportionally small in the bodies that control global development policies.”
And then there are the multinational corporations. “They have massive influence on policy-making,” Ndikumana explains, “and therefore have enormous global influence. Thanks to the vast amount of trade and investment they control, they greatly affect African economies. For example, in most African countries, oil companies and mineral companies are foreign-owned—with China an increasing presence—and dictate how much revenue accrues back to African countries. African countries can do nothing about it, because the developed countries back the major corporations.”